Early spring is one of the best times of the year to see waterfalls, and these 10 picture-perfect parks are great bets for a natural rush.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
Waterfalls are a major tourist attraction at this iconic park, for good reason. The high granite walls throughout the Yosemite Valley offer a dramatic backdrop, and visitors can easily drive or take short hikes to reach many of the falls, including Sentinel Falls, Ribbon Fall, Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in the country. For a challenging hike, take the 5.5-mile round-trip trail to the top of Nevada Fall, passing the remarkably wide and full Vernal Fall (shown here) along the way.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Rushing water is especially precious in the desert, and in a setting as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, waterfalls take on a special beauty. Elves Chasm (shown here), Deer Creek Falls, Vasey’s Paradise and Cheyava Falls all require difficult hikes or boat trips on the Colorado River to see, but the views are an incredible reward for the effort. Just outside the park, the Havasupai Nation is also home to several spectacular waterfalls that are part of this canyon system. Visitors must access these spots, including the famous Havasu Falls, with a separate set of reservations and permits through the tribe, so be sure to plan in advance.
3. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
This unique urban park has a bit of everything, from a historic railroad to a popular towpath trail, and waterfalls are no exception. The impressive Brandywine Falls (shown here) are one of the main visitor attractions at the park. Visitors can reach the falls from an easy 1.5-mile loop trail and admire its wide, 65-foot drop over shale ledges. Just don’t overlook the nearby Blue Hen Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, which are also easy to get to and well worth the extra stops.
4. Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Brooks Falls may not be particularly high or remarkable in themselves, but at the peak of summer, when salmon make their trek upstream, this is the meeting spot for the park’s bears. Note that, unlike other waterfalls in this feature, the best time of year to visit tends to be late June and July, when the salmon are running and the wildlife-watching is at its best. If traveling to the Alaska backcountry feels like too big of a commitment, you can still glimpse these falls and the animals that fish and play there on the park’s webcam (which is currently showing highlights from previous footage, but will return to a live stream in June).
5. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah may be best-known for its tree-lined mountains, but its wooded hollows offer waterfalls galore during the wet spring season. One of the most popular and easiest to reach is the beautiful, multi-tiered Dark Hollow Falls (shown here). For a more challenging and less-crowded hike, try the 8-mile loop from Whiteoak Canyon to Cedar Run to see eight formidable waterfalls, or the 6.4-mile hike to Overall Run Falls, the tallest in the park. Other popular options include the Jones Runs Falls (3.4 miles out and back) and the Doyles River Upper and Lower Falls (3.2 miles out and back), both in the southern district of the park. Just remember on most of these hikes that the uphill trip back to the parking lot is more strenuous than the trip out.
6. Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey
At 260 feet wide and 77 feet tall, the Great Falls of Paterson, New Jersey, are the dramatic focal point of the town’s landscape and one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the East Coast. They are also the force that has powered the area’s industrial center for decades. In the 1700s, Alexander Hamilton helped to found a thriving manufacturing district here, harnessing the abundant hydropower generated by this waterfall. See the rush of water come crashing through the Passaic River Gorge and stroll among the historic factory buildings of “Silk City,” where a diverse community of artisans and mill workers created a range of products and fought for better labor standards.
7. Devils Postpile National Monument, California
This monument takes its name from a cliff of cooled lava that formed into striking hexagonal columns some 100,000 years ago. The dramatic Rainbow Falls may take second billing to the postpile, but its natural wonder is a spectacle in itself worth seeing. Take an easy 2.5-mile hike from the ranger station to see these falls plunge 101 feet into the roaring water below. Stroll there at mid-day when the sun is at its peak to see the reflected rainbows that give the falls their name.
8. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii receives more rain than any other part of the country, so it’s no surprise that this tropical archipelago is home to numerous waterfalls. Visitors to Haleakalā on the southeast coast of Maui can take a moderate 3-mile hike to the famed Waimoku Falls, driving and hiking past other falls along the way. The Waimoku Falls drop 400 feet at a nearly 90-degree angle down a verdant lava wall into a lush valley. The best time to go is during the wet season, generally from November to April.
9. Olympic National Park, Washington
With its rare temperate rainforest, numerous rushing rivers and more than 12 feet of rainfall a year, Olympic is a wonderful park to see water cascading among lush greenery. From the tall and elegant Marymere Falls to the gracefully fanning Madison Creek Falls to the powerful Sol Duc Falls (shown here), visitors have plenty to see, all of it surrounded by verdant scenery that is like nowhere else in the world.
10. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
Yellowstone’s largest and best-known falls are the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone (shown here), a must-see when visiting the park. With its 308-foot drop, its force is powerful and the view is majestic — but it is by no means the only show in town. Yellowstone’s dozens of waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes, including the tall, narrow Tower Falls and the wide, multi-tiered Gibbon and Union Falls. Easy hikes lead to wonders like Mystic and Undine Falls; longer, more strenuous treks lead to impressive and less-crowded destinations like Osprey and Union Falls.
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- NPCA Regions:
- Northern Rockies